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Look Back on 2008

Aired December 28, 2008 - 10:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice-over): One tumultuous year. Journalists stand accused of lionizing Barack Obama; prematurely burying John McCain; treating Hillary Clinton with sexist disdain; depicting Sarah Palin as a dummy; and drowning in trivia.



BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS: Lipstick on a pig.

KURTZ: We'll grade the campaign coverage, tackle the future of the struggling news business, and show you some of our best interviews of 2008.

Bias in Tinseltown? A blogger who once worked for Matt Drudge wants to make Hollywood safe for conservatives.


KURTZ: It would take four or five hours to fully examine the media's performance in this tumultuous year, and I'm sure you're kind of busy, what with the holidays and all. So we're going to try to zero in on the key moments. And you won't be surprised to hear that the demolition derby that propelled Barack Obama to the presidency, which wasn't always pretty, was matched by news coverage that was at times rather ugly, or at least strikingly superficial.

So we begin this 2008 review with a look at how RELIABLE SOURCES turned its critical lens on political reporting beginning a few days after the New Hampshire primary.


KURTZ: We were wrong. We blew it. We were positive Obama was going to win New Hampshire. Everyone knew Hillary was going to lose. That's what the polls said, what the buzz said, what all our friends said. We're sorry.

All right, you're not going to hear that from too many journalists, but the news business has plenty to answer for after a series of blunders that highlighted all the media's worst flaws.

Here's how it looked on Tuesday.

COURIC: Democrat Barack Obama may be heading for his second big victory in less than a week.

CHARLES GIBSON, ABC NEWS: There is talk and evidence of an Obama wave moving through this state on the eve of its primary.

KURTZ (voice-over): When Ted Kennedy endorsed Senator Obama, the airwaves were fill would references to his late brother.

(on camera): And Barack Obama, well, the pundits have been comparing him to JFK since he first started flirting with running.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: Tonight from Washington, passing the torch.

COURIC: Tonight, passing the torch.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: The torch gets passed; the Clintons get passed by.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Barack Obama touched by the legacy of Camelot.

KURTZ: Hillary's complaints about unfair media coverage didn't really get much attention until a certain Saturday night.

(on camera): Clinton started bringing up last weekend's "Saturday Night Live" skit that showed the anchors fawning over Obama. And last night, the SNL gang was at it again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Clinton, you often allude to Senator Obama's eloquence. And let's be honest, he is really, really eloquent, amazingly eloquent, quite astonishingly eloquent. Really.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I get it, Tim. He's eloquent.

KURTZ: As Obama closed in on the nomination, Hillary's supporters were really fed up.

(on camera): They are angry at a campaign that has sometimes seem to focus on Clinton's clothing, cleavage and cackle. And they are angry at the media for belittling their champion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She morphed into a scolding mother talking down to a child.

NEIL CAVUTO, FOX NEWS: Men won't vote for Hillary Clinton because she reminds them of their nagging wives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And when Hillary Clinton speaks, men hear, "Take out the garbage."

MATTHEWS: As if you're a guy going door to door trying to sell something and she said, "You'll have to wait for my husband to get home." UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When she reacts the way she reacts to Obama, with just the look, the look toward him, looking like everyone's first wife standing outside of probate court...



KURTZ: Joining us now to examine what the media did wrong and right this past year, Jessica Yellin, national political correspondent for CNN; Amy Holmes, political contributor for CNN; Bill Press, host of "The Bill Press Show" on Sirius Satellite Radio; and Terry Smith, former media correspondent for PBS's "News Hour."

All right, Terry, we had a good time looking at those clips. The press really took a beating in this campaign, whether it was saying Hillary was inevitable initially or denigrating Hillary or getting swept up by Obama mania.

What's your grade?

TERRY SMITH, FORMER PBS CORRESPONDENT: Actually, I would give them a B plus, believe it or not.

KURTZ: That's pretty generous.

SMITH: Everything you put on the tape is there and it proves once again that "Saturday Night Live" does the best journalism in America. But beyond that -- and there were all those blunders. There were more, of course.

I always felt I knew where the campaign was going. I thought I knew changes and understood changes from the coverage as they occurred.

Were there biases? Sure.

KURTZ: Well, let's stick with Hillary for a minute, Bill Press. Did the Hillary coverage reveal in parts of the media a pretty deep- rooted strain of sexism?

BILL PRESS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I'm not sure it's sexism, but I've got to disagree with Terry. I mean, I think after John McCain, the media was a big loser in this campaign. I think it lost a lot of credibility.

I mean, I think back to what we were told from the beginning. We were told, for example, that no U.S. senator is ever going to be elected president again. Guess, what? We've got a president, a vice president and a secretary of state, and of a secretary of the interior, all who are former senators.

We were told Hillary had it locked up. We were told Rudy had it locked up. We were told McCain was dead. So I just think it's almost got to the point where you couldn't believe anything you saw on television about this campaign. SMITH: That's the whole problem of getting ahead of the story.

KURTZ: But that happened repeatedly during the year. The whole culture of prediction and pushing forward and what we think is going to happen and what this poll says is going to happen.

AMY HOLMES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I absolutely agree. And Howie, we talked about this all year long.

There was this smarty pants press, and part of me was thinking, if you know so much, why aren't you getting paid a million dollars to be a campaign consultant? And we saw, for example, Politico had a huge story in the middle of the Democratic primary saying Hillary can't win because she doesn't have the pledged delegates. Well, neither did Barack.

Both of them would have to convince the superdelegates to make them the nominee, but the press was already running away with the Barack Obama story. And in your lead-in, you said was this like a bang-up, smash-up thing? A lot of conservatives say it was the Autobahn for Barack Obama...


PRESS: But they were demanding -- the press was demanding that Hillary step out of the race.

HOLMES: They were.

PRESS: There weren't just predicting...

KURTZ: Was the fact that Hillary's people were sometimes difficult to deal with, did that influence the coverage at all?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It influences the tone to a certain extent, sure. I think this was a very strong year for reporting and a very weak year for the pundits and prognosticators.

I imagine it's a little self-serving, but I think that we gave the American people enormous opportunity to hear from the candidates. They had "BALLOT BOWL" we talked about on the weekends, where you could just hear 10 minutes of the candidates speaking. And the American people had a chance to listen.

KURTZ: But what is the line between reporting and analysis and commentary these days? When you are standing up doing 10 live shots a day, the anchor is going to come to you and say basically, "Who is going to win? Who is going to lose? What's happening? What about this latest poll?"

That puts you in the position of being a "pundit."

YELLIN: And you have to be careful about saying, you know, "What I am seeing out there, people are telling me." You don't say that as a reporter in the field. You don't make these judgments, but pundits on a set...

HOLMES: But let's face it, you were much more fastidious than a lot of reporters. And I would say actually for CNN, I think we had bang-up coverage. We had the YouTube debates, we had the Reagan Library, we gave the candidates an opportunity to talk to the American people about their views.

And then we had people like me, "The Best Political Team" that's flight (ph) in flight (ph) of all these pundits talking, but we also had you out there every single day, being a reporter, being straight. I don't think we saw that in the print.

PRESS: Howie, I think the line is increasingly blurred between -- and I agree that there is a difference, and I think it's mainly the pundits that got it wrong. But I see more and more anchors and not just reporters who are in the giving their opinion or stating what has to happen business. The line is blurred if not disappeared.

SMITH: Well, that was the blunder of Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews on the various primary nights. You know, they crossed the line, they obliterated the line. And NBC...

KURTZ: Of course, they are paid to have opinions. But then MSNBC put them in the role of "neutral" anchors on primary nights and at the conventions.

Let's get specific. Let's talk about Sarah Palin for example, Terry.

There was a lot of legitimate reporting about Sarah Palin and her record in Alaska. This was somebody who had burst onto the national scene, but it seemed to get overshadowed by a lot of the personal stuff -- her baby, her pregnant daughter. Legitimate criticism?

SMITH: Yes, it is a legitimate criticism. She burst onto the scene, no one knew her, they -- I think they were slow in getting up to Alaska and getting the full story. And in the meantime, there was a great deal of nonsense. So that was probably not fair to her, but in many respects she invited it.

KURTZ: Let me play the interview that I think was the turning point in the campaign, both for her and the Republican ticket. Let's watch.


COURIC: I'm just going to ask you one more time, not to belabor the point. Specific examples in his 26 years of pushing for more regulation?

GOV. SARAH PALIN, (R) AK: I'll try to find some and I'll bring 'em to ya.

COURIC: You've cited Alaska's proximity to Russia as part of your foreign policy experience. What did you mean by that?

PALIN: As Putin rears his head and comes into the airspace of the United States of America, where do they go? It's Alaska.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was Tina Fey, right?

KURTZ: No, that was Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska, memorably played by Tina Fey.

Did the Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric interviews -- was it an example of the media at their best, showing that many people would say that Palin was unprepared to be vice president?

PRESS: I think there was some unfair coverage of Sarah Palin, particularly about the family. The story at first, whether she could run for vice president because she had three kids or whatever, and then the newest one, I think that was totally unfair. But I think the Katie Couric and the Charlie Gibson interviews were really good journalism.

It was not "gotcha" journalism. They followed up. They asked legitimate questions and she wasn't prepared. She didn't know what she was talking about. And I think it showed.

SMITH: Yes, I think there's a revealing of her and her shortcomings as a candidate for vice president, not as whatever else she may have been.

HOLMES: Let's contrast that with Caroline Kennedy and the possibility of her being a United States senator, and we see all of her credentials that she wrote two books, that she edited a book of poetry or something. And the coverage of her to be a United States senator is very different than Sarah Palin. She's actually advancing being a mother as being a qualification for office, and we're not seeing the same criticism.

KURTZ: Well, but what do senators do? They mostly talk and vote.

But here's the thing that I don't want to lose here. The Republican campaign strategy was to accuse the media constantly of savaging Sarah Palin while providing very little access to her. And that, I think, was frustrating for us in our business.

YELLIN: And they also strategically chose when to declare sexism. I mean, there were instances of overt sexism that I would bring to the McCain campaign and say, "What are your comments to this?" And they would ignore it because it wasn't from an outlet that they wanted to attack.

KURTZ: Really?

YELLIN: I also found that the Hillary Clinton campaign did the same thing. That there were instances they would ignore because it wasn't to their benefit.

Now, at the same time, I think this campaign was enormously influential, interesting for the way women are being portrayed in power positions in the public view. There was sexism. Hillary Clinton was not female enough. She was very credible and capable, but not female enough in public. And Sarah Palin...

KURTZ: Not female enough in the opinion of who?

YELLIN: The punditry. I mean, and the analysis she's like your shrill ex-wife, she's not nurturing, she doesn't cry enough, let's see her emotional side.

KURTZ: And a lot of those people were men making those observations.

YELLIN: Correct. But Sarah Palin was too female and not credible. And it's like, how can you be a powerful woman in public with the media accepting you in that role?

KURTZ: On this question of whether we dealt sufficiently with serious issues, let me play a brief that you'll all remember how this dominated the news for a couple of days.


ALAN COLMES, FOX NEWS: Top story tonight, pigs in lipstick.

BLITZER: Lipstick on a pig.

COURIC: That lipstick comment.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: We've got this lipstick comment that we've been talking about all night.

HUME: The issue of the day today all day, lipstick on a pig.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Lipstick smears pigs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The lipstick war.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do we call it? Lipstickgate?


KURTZ: All right, Terry. Clearly, there was plenty of triviality.

SMITH: I mean, that was utter nonsense. And you'll note that almost all your clips there are from cable. And I don't want to beat up the cable business while I'm on cable...

KURTZ: It was mentioned on broadcast networks, of course.

SMITH: ... but, in fact, that's a classic example of endless, open air time and needing to fill it up. And they filled it with nonsense.

KURTZ: Well, how about how much time we spent, for example -- by "we" I mean including newspapers, magazines, broadcast networks -- on the McCain campaign's Paris Hilton ad? And was Barack Obama an empty- headed celebrity like Paris Hilton? I mean, we get manipulated by campaigns that know exactly what they're doing.

HOLMES: Absolutely, and that was actually an example of where John McCain actually owned the story for a couple of days. I think that was two in three months. So they would consider that a real score. But the media, they got wrapped up in it.

A lot that I saw this year that was interesting -- and I remember we would talk about it throughout the year -- is how much there was so much horse race. There was so much polling data and people reporting on what Pew and Gallup and Zogby were saying about the race.

We also saw a lot of "reporting" with the dueling press releases. Well, this campaign says this and this campaign says that. And we're done, you know, back to the anchor. But we didn't get investigation of whether or not it was true.

KURTZ: Well, sometimes we did in some newspapers, but by and large, I think you're right.

PRESS: One of the cheapest tricks in politics is to prepare a spot that is just totally outrageous and don't spend any money to put it on the air...

KURTZ: (INAUDIBLE) time and again.


KURTZ: And all the cable networks, they would play these things over and over again, and I would look up the numbers. I actually wrote about it. And they were talking about an ad three times in Illinois or Indiana.

PRESS: Exactly. But I never seen it suckered so much as we were this year by these spots. And in fact, were not paid spots. They were just media opportunities.

KURTZ: We've got to deal with Obama, "Person of the Year," according to "TIME" magazine. Journalists say to me now looking back, with all the benefit of hindsight that we have, "Yes, you know, Obama got better coverage because he was newer, he was more interesting, and he ran a better campaign."

Is that an adequate explanation?

YELLIN: In part. I also think, frankly, he rates well. You put the guy on TV and ratings go up. And this is business.

KURTZ: And magazine covers and entertainment shows.

YELLIN: Look at all these commemorative magazines and newspapers. It's a business they're trying to sell.

SMITH: Yes. He rated with a different audience, also, than John McCain. A younger, from a television point of view, more desirable audience.

PRESS: But you know, I'm still left uncertain as to whether Obama is the next JFK or FDR or Abraham Lincoln.


HOLMES: I mean, honestly, isn't that a problem with the coverage, is that now that he's making his cabinet picks, people don't see how it hangs together ideologically? And yet, the media was supposed to be letting the American voter know where he's coming from. And now that he's president-elect, we don't.

KURTZ: But this explanation that I just talked about, about he was more interesting, he rated well, he was a new story, is that fair? Is that fundamentally unfair for one candidate, no matter how appealing, to get more coverage and more sympathetic coverage than the opponent?

HOLMES: Well, as I said, I think that reporters were supposed to be in the job of investigating. And so now we have like, you know, Blagojevich and Chicago politics, which we didn't know about for two years. And then all of the sudden, we're like, oh, Chicago politics are really messy and dirty? Why didn't journalists tell us about this before?

KURTZ: Well, some did.

PRESS: Look, but the Illinois press has covered Blagojevich in detail for the last two years. It didn't become a national story until Fitzgerald arrested him. And when you arrest a sitting governor, then a whole nation is upset.

KURTZ: Well, and there's one thing that we can't overlook, and that is that Barack Obama always had a historic candidacy. That if he won, we all knew we would be at this sort of great juncture of history, with the first African American president. And I think that was on the minds of a lot of journalists in the way that they covered him.

Let me get a break here.

Coming up, our panel returns to examine the problems facing the incredible shrinking news business.

And can a conservative Web site find an audience in a liberal oasis like Hollywood?



KURTZ: 2008 has been one heck of a year for politics, war, the roller-coaster economy, and, of course, the news business. We went digging into the RELIABLE archives for some of the most intriguing and provocative moments on this program.


KURTZ (voice-over): It was quite a moment for the country when Barack Obama finally defeated Hillary Clinton, but did it create something of a dilemma for black reporters?

(on camera): Now, you obviously are paid to be an objective journalist, but some part of you must be excited that Barack Obama won this nomination.

BYRON PITTS, CBS NEWS: Well, certainly. I mean, as an African- American man, this is significant.

I mean, look, for my entire life I have been able to, as a man, dream of doing great things. But a dream I could never have was being president of the United States.

Now, for instance, my sons, my nephew, they can have that dream. And I think those kinds of images are important.

For instance, one reason why I'm a journalist today was because I saw Ed Bradley on television in the 1970s, and that told me that was possible. So I think -- I mean, look, the reality is, it's still going to be hard for a black man to get a cab in New York, there's still going to be problems with race in this country. But having Barack Obama as the nominee is significant.

KURTZ (voice-over): Everyone in the news business knew about "The National Enquirer" allegations that John Edwards had an affair with a former campaign aide who had become pregnant, but most news outlets felt they didn't have the evidence to report the story. That is until Brian Ross confirmed that an Edwards' crony was funneling money to Rielle Hunter. And Edwards fessed up to ABC.

(on camera): And so if no one had gone on the record, even though you had this money trail, as you describe it, this odd situation where a former campaign aide to John Edwards' presidential effort is somehow living in a $3 million Santa Barbara home, you would not have gone with that without some confirming source on the record?

BRIAN ROSS, ABC NEWS: Well, I think we would have gone with the fact, the questions raised about the money trail. And I think that would have led to this being cracked.

KURTZ: What about the argument, Brian, that John Edwards no longer running for president and no longer a senator, should he be left alone? Why are the media harassing him?

ROSS: I think because he lied as a presidential candidate. He may have used political money to further the affair.

He certainly used his staff to try to cover it up. He lied to his own campaign manager about the affair. This was a man who went into the campaign living a lie, and that's something I thought was important to report.

KURTZ (voice-over): I could not figure out how Keith Olbermann could be a fiery liberal crusader on his show and then have MSNBC trot him out as an anchor on big primary nights.

So I asked him about it.

(on camera): You have been co-anchoring MSNBC's news coverage on primary night. Is there a collision of roles between being a neutral anchor and the very opinionated guy we see on "Countdown?"

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: I don't think there's that much of a collision. I think if you're smart enough to know when to do one and do the other, there shouldn't be a problem.

In areas that I thought might be particularly sensitive, for instance, if for some reason the president of the United States wanted to come on and make a statement during our coverage of our Republican primary, I would step aside for that interview. I would not take advantage of that situation and shout nasty things about him.

KURTZ (voice-over): But MSNBC management eventually agreed with me and yanked Olbermann and Chris Matthews as political anchors, giving the job to David Gregory in what became a tryout for "Meet the Press."

Sally Quinn, an early and vocal critic of Sarah Palin, said she may have underestimated the Alaskan governor, but she still challenged the VP nominee on personal ground, prompting some pushback from one of our guests.

SALLY QUINN, "WASHINGTON POST": I still have grave doubts about whether a mother of five, soon to be six, with a special needs child and a child who is pregnant, is going to be able to put her country first. I think we heard McCain say 100 times, "I'm going to put my country first."

ED HENRY, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I can't believe what I'm hearing from you though, Sally. And I can't believe what Emily said, basically that, you know, how could she be a mother and be a vice president? Why are you not saying the same thing about Barack Obama? He is the father of two young daughters, who are quite beautiful.

How could he possibly then, by this standard you're creating, go to Washington and be president? Which I assume is more important than vice president, we would all agree, or just as important. And why are you not questioning whether he could be a good father?

I just think there's a double standard. And I thought the whole point of women having equal rights is that they could have a family and a career. And secondly, that men as fathers -- and I am a father -- should be just as active as the moms are. So I don't understand.

KURTZ: Let me get a brief response from Sally.

QUINN: It ain't going to happen. I mean, men and women are different.

Every single one of my friends -- I've been a working mother for 26 years. Every single friend practically that I have is a working mother. They are constantly in a state of guilt and conflict. They take on the burden of the child-rearing, and the husbands do not. Men and women are different, and every mother and every father knows that in his or her heart.

HENRY: I totally understand the guilt issue you're talking about, but I do not think that means that women should not be able to serve. That's my opinion.

QUINN: I didn't say that. Did you hear me say that? No.

HENRY: But you're questioning whether or not she could be vice president.

QUINN: I didn't say not be able to serve.

KURTZ (voice-over): When "Baltimore Sun" columnist David Zurawik criticized Ali Velshi for his coverage of the financial meltdown, the CNN anchor showed up ready for combat.

ALI VELSHI, CNN SR. BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: You know, David, you wrote about me. You said something about how I'm loud and excitable.

You know what? I'm loud -- if you talk to my mother and my sister, I'm loud and excitable all the time, and I'm emphatic in my belief that there are things that people have to understand here.

You also wrote that we're all opinion and a few facts. I'm on TV about 15 times a day. I invite you to find the one fact that I've been wrong about.

DAVID ZURAWIK, "BALTIMORE SUN": Ali -- Ali, no, no, no. No, no, no. Listen, I'm not going to get excitable and loud either. Let's have a civil conversation.

VELSHI: No, they're your words. I don't actually have a problem with excitable and loud.

ZURAWIK: But I do. I do at a moment of crisis.

VELSHI: Well, that's great, but the American public need facts.

ZURAWIK: They do need facts. I couldn't agree...

VELSHI: And I've been providing the facts.

ZURAWIK: You are not providing the facts after...

VELSHI: What didn't I provide? What did I say that was wrong?

ZURAWIK: After the first bailout bill failed, Ali...


ZURAWIK: ... you were literally sitting on the set screaming that it had to pass or Armageddon was going to follow. KURTZ: Hold on. Hold on.

VELSHI: I absolutely didn't ever say those words.

KURTZ: Ali, I'll give you a chance to respond.

ZURAWIK: Ali, this is all I'm saying...


ZURAWIK: ... is we really...

VELSHI: Actually, I got a lot of what you're saying. This isn't all of it, but you've got a whole lot of stuff that you've written from the shelter...

ZURAWIK: See, now you're doing schtick. You're doing cable TV schtick instead of a nice discussion.


VELSHI: I don't get to press "delete" when I say something on TV like you do. I don't have the shelter of a desk.

KURTZ (voice-over): We finally called it after 15 rounds.

We had all kinds of questions for Barbara Walters, but I started with the moment more than three decades ago when she made television history and wound up feeling miserable.

BARBARA WALTERS, CO-HOST, "THE VIEW": Well, out of the frying pan and into the fryer. I mean, I was very happy on "The Today Show," and really I thought a very long time before I made that leap.

Part of it was that I had a 7-year-old child, and I could have, I thought, a normal life. Harry Reasoner didn't want a partner. He had been doing the program by himself, he thought he was doing fine, although they were way down in the ratings.

But frankly, at least on the air, he used to give me a kind of tight little smile. Harry just couldn't.

I was a failure, my career was over. I was, at that point, for various reasons which I go into in the book supporting my mother, my father, my disabled sister -- it's still hard for me to talk about it -- and my daughter. And I thought I was finished.

KURTZ (on camera): Four years ago, you stepped down after about a quarter century as a co-anchor of ABC's "20/20." Why did you decide to leave the program?

WALTERS: I had been doing it for 25 years. The program was changing. All of television was changing. It was getting to be more of the big get, the big get, the big get, and less heads of state, less presidents, and more celebrities coming out of rehab. And I just didn't enjoy it anymore. KURTZ (voice-over): We talked to Lara Logan a number of times from war zones. And in October, she was just back from Afghanistan. But in this interview, I asked the CBS correspondent how she felt about all the publicity about her getting pregnant while she was in Baghdad and before her divorce was final.

(on camera): Now, you got pregnant while you were in Baghdad. Your divorce was not yet final. It is now. You found yourself on the front page of "The New York Post," and you were kind of tabloid fodder for a while.

Was that a difficult period for you?

LARA LOGAN, CBS NEWS: Yes, I think it's very difficult, especially, you know, when your job is to be a journalist and not to be a celebrity. I mean, you don't make your living out of being a celebrity as a journalist. And especially the last seven years of my life have been mostly spent in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And so I found the whole debate over whether or not -- you know, now suddenly it's a question of whether or not you have the ability to do your job or the brains to do your job. And I find it in me, I don't think that...

KURTZ: Is it sexist? Is it demeaning?

LOGAN: It is demeaning. I think it is demeaning.

I mean, it's sort of 17, 18 years that I've been doing this. And now people question whether or not you have the brains to do it? I mean, would they question that if I was a man? I don't think so. Not to the same degree.


KURTZ: Lara Logan has since gotten remarried.

And last week, one of our guests made a very important endorsement.


KURTZ: Well, you have not been boring here today.


KURTZ: Thank you so much for coming on.

GOLDBERG: It's a pleasure. I really do love this show.

KURTZ: Thank you.


KURTZ: Thanks, Whoopi. When we come back, with the financial crisis still dominating the news, are the media doing a decent job of unraveling what went wrong? And how did they miss the warning signs over the years?


KURTZ: Now that we're in a full-fledged recession, the newspapers have been filled with stories about what went wrong. But with $350 billion in federal bailout funds having been funneled to the big Wall Street banks, AIG, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Citigroup, General Motors and Chrysler, the question is whether this coverage is too late and too little.


KURTZ: Bill Press, we're starting to see these long, detailed accounts of failures at the SEC, most recently in investigating Bernard Madoff and his $50 billion Ponzi scheme. They didn't find anything wrong.

Where were all these stories before?

SMITH: I'd like to know the same thing. Look, two years ago, the SEC got some reports about Madoff, and this was kind of phony baloney. And they investigated it and they gave him a clean bill of health.

Now, somebody has got to be covering the SEC, I think. I mean, I don't know those people, but somebody should have been there saying, wait a minute, what's going on?

There were no stories about it.

KURTZ: There were some stories about risks at Fannie Mae and subprime loan risks and all that, some of which dated back to the Clinton administration. But these stories rarely made page one or the network newscasts. They always seemed to be back in the business section.

HOLMES: But isn't the news always following the latest crisis? So they didn't cover it until it was a crisis.

KURTZ: Right.

HOLMES: And would we have paid attention if they gave us, like, the warning signs and the red flags...


KURTZ: That's an interesting question. We didn't get a chance to find out.

PRESS: But Jessica mentioned Walter Reed. You know, The Post did a great job. Nobody else would have know about this story without "The Washington Post." The Post should have been on the Wall Street meltdown before we found out about it. KURTZ: And the "Wall Street Journal" and the "New York Times"...

SMITH: They should have looked at the housing bubble and said this is out of control, and really drilled down and dug down and found out...

KURTZ: There were a lot of stories about how housing prices couldn't continue to rise at that rate forever, but they always focused on the people who owned the houses. What very rarely was looked at was that the banks who were making the loans would run into trouble.

But let me ask you, Terry, when things are going well, everybody is making their money, everybody is buying homes, everyone is selling homes, all the profits are piling up, are journalists reluctant a bit to be the skunk at the party?

SMITH: I think they tend to go to sleep. In other words, they'll ride the good times along with everybody else, and they tend to not dig as deeply as they should, so that's a big problem. And it certainly occurred in this case. This is a D minus at best.

YELLIN: And right now, how about all this Treasury money?

PRESS: Thank you.

YELLIN: The funds that went out to these banks? We can't find out what they're using it for, they're not going to report, and there's no accountability.

PRESS: There is no follow-up, which is -- I think they're going to sleep now on the so-called TARP. We've put out $350 billion. We don't know where that money went. We don't know what they did with it.

KURTZ: When you get into derivatives and housing policy and banking regulation, I think TV has trouble dealing with that kind of complexity.

YELLIN: Well, it's too detailed to make it interesting sometimes. And until you have a personal story, somebody who has had a personal loss, it doesn't connect to a viewer.

HOLMES: They need that TARP money and for journalists to say the Bridge to Nowhere. Like, they need that metaphor that everybody understands and get into the details...

SMITH: Bill has raised a really good point. Why aren't right now, news organizations saying, why is all this money not making a difference? Why is it not turning the economy around? Why is it not loosening credit? Those are good questions.

PRESS: Here is what you need, I think. You need the personal stories.

I was in New York last week, talked to a friend of a woman who -- her husband invested $75 million with Bernard Madoff. She was fat on the land and the next day totally wiped out, like that.

KURTZ: But part of the challenge of journalism you're saying is, you know, the numbers get so big that they almost become abstract and meaningless.

HOLMES: What is a trillion dollars?

KURTZ: Bring it down to the level of some person who invested their life savings...

PRESS: And got totally wiped out. Yes. And there are tons of those stories out there.

KURTZ: And I think there needs to be more coverage -- it sounds boring, federal regulatory agencies. But that's what's at the heart of this whole mess, and that's where I think in part many of us fell down on the job.

HOLMES: I would agree with that, but I would also give journalists a little bit of a break, which is, are they supposed to be smarter than our own policymakers who didn't see it coming?.


HOLMES: When Hank Paulson who didn't see this coming?


PRESS: I would hope so.

HOLMES: I mean, they're reporting on the story as it happens.

KURTZ: That's true. We don't have subpoena power, but we do have the power to ask questions.

All right. Terry Smith, Amy Holmes, Jessica Yellin, Bill Press, thanks very much for joining us.

Still to come, a former associate of Matt Drudge plans to stir things up in Hollywood. Is there room for a conservative Web site?



There's very little good news in the news business these days. The Tribune Company is bankrupt, the "Miami Herald" is for sale, and plenty of newspapers are slashing staff and shutting down their Washington bureaus.

There have been layoffs at "Newsweek," NBC, CBS and National Public Radio. "U.S. News" has been cut back to a monthly, and "The Christian Science Monitor" will exist only online. Not a pretty picture.

Terry Smith, newspapers are looking like the Detroit automakers without the federal bailout. Is the future bleak for them in paper form? Ink on paper form?

SMITH: It's very bleak. I mean, this is a big news story, what's happened this year, and that happened this year -- 15,000 layoffs and dismissals.

KURTZ: It sometimes sounds like whining when we talk about.

SMITH: It does.

KURTZ: There's a real shift going on here.

SMITH: And I would agree that it is no more significant or important than, let's say, 15,000 automakers or anybody else. But it is a desperate situation, and I think what's happening is newspapers are discovering that there may be a core readership that will buy it on print. But the great majority is going to get it right here. They're going to get it on some handheld device.

KURTZ: And Amy...

HOLMES: And they don't want to pay for that.

KURTZ: Well, that's exactly the question I was going to ask Amy.

A lot of younger people tell me, "Well, I get my news online, I don't need a newspaper." Of course, much of the real news, the real digging, comes from these big newspaper staffs that can not be supported, at least for now, with Web ads.

HOLMES: And that's a problem, but you also have bloggers that we saw this whole year, people like Michelle Malkin and others, who they did their digging on their own.

KURTZ: Absolutely.

HOLMES: And they gave us information without having the advertising, without having the ads for dating or whatever in the back of the newspaper. So are we going to go to citizen journalism?.

KURTZ: But you're not suggesting that they can replace these big news organizations?

HOLMES: I'm not saying replace it, but as someone who is a consumer of online news, I was getting it from a lot of different places.

PRESS: We also saw a lot of bloggers put out a lot of stuff that was not at all sourced and not credible, and it was just out there on the Net. But Howie, I think we're seeing -- whine or not whine, we are seeing a change in the way people get their news. I think newspapers are dead. I mean...

KURTZ: If they're dead, let's talk about what would be lost.

Take the "Chicago Tribune". The Tribune Company is bankrupt, but it's The Tribune that broke the story about Rod Blagojevich being wiretapped by federal prosecutors. So everyone that wants everything to be free on the Internet, I understand that. But you get what you pay for.

PRESS: But I also think with the Tribune particularly, one of the changes is it used to be families that owned the newspapers that were committed to journalism. And they might even take a loss because they were committed to journalism.

KURTZ: Or they would accept lower rate of profit.

PRESS: Exactly. Thank you.

You don't have that today. Nobody ever accused Sam Zell of giving one damn about journalism. He was only in there for the bottom line, and he started throwing things off and he destroyed it.

YELLIN: It was -- the Walter Reed story was broken by print.

PRESS: Yes..

YELLIN: They have the time to investigate. And without that, the public loses.

KURTZ: That was a "Washington Post" story.

SMITH: If we lose that reporting muscle...

HOLMES: But at the same time, in this election year, eight in 10 Americans found by Pew Research thought that media was pulling for Barack Obama. So Americans look at our mainstream newspapers and feel like it's being biased.

KURTZ: Let me jump in here. I don't want to just sort of blame the audience or blame technology. There were a lot of self-inflicted wounds here.

I think newspapers, most of them, for too long were too mediocre, too dull, too cautious. And they were fat and happy monopolies, one in each city, mostly, and then the Internet came along and kind of ate their lunch.

SMITH: Fat and happy is the key. They -- the staffs became too large, the expenses were out of control. All right. That's fine. They've cut a great deal of that back or are cutting it now.

The problem is what comes next year and the year after. And they can't be dead. If they're dead, to use your word, Bill, if newspapers are, you're going to lose that reporting muscle out in the field. Aggregators aggregate newspaper Web sites.

PRESS: But don't get me wrong. I just don't -- I don't want them to be dead. I'm a newspaper freak. But I don't think there's anyway you can reverse the trend. And I think it's the same trend that television is suffering from today. I mean, more and more people don't turn the TV on either. HOLMES: They just don't want, you know, service journalism, but the "LA Times," I don't think that they necessarily did national coverage very well. If they are now going to have to focus on covering LA, that's a big city. They should put their resources into it, and maybe this downsizing will actually help them.

KURTZ: A lot of big newspapers are focusing now on local journalism because that's their unique franchise.

All right. You'll all come back a little later in the show, but coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, from Brian Ross to Barbara Walters, a look at some of our best interviews of 2008.



KURTZ: Hollywood is known as an enclave of limousine liberals, and for good reason. From Barbra Streisand to Susan Sarandon to George Clooney, not to mention such executives as Jeffrey Katzenberg and Norman Lear, the L.A. glitterati normally lean left, but open their wallets to Democratic candidates. But are there more than a few conservatives hidden in the Hills?

Columnist Andrew Breitbart thinks so. He runs the news Web site and is co-author of "Hollywood Interrupted: Insanity Chic in Babylon."

He joins me now from Los Angeles.


KURTZ: So you're starting a new Web site first week in January that's going to be aimed at highlighting conservatives in Tinseltown. Explain.

BREITBART: Well, it's not just going to highlight conservatives in Tinseltown, it's going to be about helping to rebrand the conservative/libertarian and center right movements. And what we're going to do at first is to start getting the establishment conservative culture to be paying attention to culture. You know, I'm going to get people from "Weekly Standard," "National Review," "Commentary Magazine," certain think tanks like the Claremont Institute and the Manhattan Institute.

The movement is so focused on policy and politics, that it's forgotten that the biggest prize is culture.

KURTZ: And by the way, all these people are going to write for you for free?

BREITBART: Yes, sir.

KURTZ: You must be very persuasive.

BREITBART: I'd like to think I am. The conservative movement in this last election cycle watched how Obama had a grasp of popular culture. It was one thing in the previous election cycles to have all the celebrities attack George Bush, but it's another thing for all the celebrities to get together and say that they like Barack Obama. And I think the collective of pop culture endorsing Barack Obama and his facility within that world helped to make him the brand that he was and helped him to win quite easily.

KURTZ: Let's go back to the culture of Hollywood. What exactly is preventing folks in Hollywood who happen to be on the right side of the spectrum from saying whatever the heck they want?

BREITBART: It's been 40 years of the type of culture that exists on a college campus. It's not like Washington, D.C., where Republicans and Democrats sway back and forth with who's in power.

Just like the college campus, somebody in Hollywood knows that if you want to keep your job or if you want to be invited to the right parties, or if you want to keep your job, you just keep your mouth shut if you hold politics that are to the right of Sean Penn. It's an unfortunate situation, but it's not just -- it's not just that problem. It's that the conservative movement and Libertarians writ large have written off pop culture, and so haven't come out here and tried -- haven't tried to have a big presence out here.

KURTZ: Well, let me jump in. Let me jump in.

You're not saying that unlike a half century ago, during the McCarthy period, that people who, as you put it, are to the right of Sean Penn, are being blacklisted from working in Hollywood. You're just saying it's made socially uncomfortable for them?

BREITBART: Well, I'd say it's beyond socially uncomfortable. And I don't think that there is an actual list, but I think that when you're on a set and the term -- the phrase "Bush is like Hitler" or "I hope that Dick Cheney has a heart attack" is used so often, that if you were to stand up and say that you actually find that to be a repulsive thought, or I disagree with that, there -- it is a very social world.

People hire people that they feel comfortable with. Casting directors, you know, you're not going to hire a right-winger to be on the set with Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins. And there are people that I know who have had experiences that are akin to being on a blacklist.

And if you see what's happening overtly with Proposition 8, where individuals out here are being targeted because they gave money to a certain proposition, that shows something that happens on a more subtle level behind the scenes. And that's one of the reasons why you'll see that Democrats come out here and collect millions and millions of dollars. And the conservatives that exist out here know not to donate any money because a simple FEC search will isolate them and make it so that it will be known throughout the industry that they are not on board with the Democratic Party line. KURTZ: All right. Prop 8, of course, the gay marriage vote that took place in November.

Let's talk about the Web and how it works. And you've spent many years working with Matt Drudge. You also helped launch The Huffington Post, which is a far more liberal site -- it doesn't share your politics. And you have your own site,, which has all these links to various news outlets.

Do these kind of sites help or hurt the mainstream media?

BREITBART: Well, I think these sites have helped the mainstream media in terms of getting people who a generation ago weren't into the news. I think that when I graduated from college in 1991, the cover of "TIME" magazine" and "Newsweek" magazine talked about an apathetic generation. And if you look at the Daily Kos and The Huffington Post and a lot of other political Web sites, you see a lot of Gen-Xers and Twixters, or whatever -- the Generation Y crowd, you see that perhaps they're a little bit too enthusiastic about civic debate and political discourse. So I think that the Internet has been a great boon for everyone, including newspapers, because most of those sites link to the good works of people in the newspapers.

KURTZ: Right.

BREITBART: The big problem for newspapers other than Craigslist, which hurt the classified industry, is that the mainstream media is having a hard time with one component in the argument out there. And that is that they still lean to the left. And in the last election cycle, proved that beyond a reasonable doubt.

KURTZ: I've got 20 seconds here. How is your new Web site going to get conservatives to do what you say you want to do -- and that is to focus more on culture -- if it hasn't happened so far?

BREITBART: Well, they're enthusiastic. I know that they are.

We have congressmen, we have senators, we have some great writers out there. We even have screenwriters, directors, producers.

They feel that in the last election cycle, if it wasn't obvious to them before this election cycle, it certainly is now that they need to get into the game. If Arianna Huffington and her left wing pals feel comfortable writing about their ideas and actually effecting change, now it's time for people who have a different point of view to come in and get their feet wet.

KURTZ: All right. We'll keep an eye out for it.

Andrew Breitbart, thanks very much for joining us.

BREITBART: Thank you.


KURTZ: And that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz.

Hope you're having a good holiday. We'll see you in the new year, 10:00 a.m. Eastern, every Sunday morning, for a critical look at the media.